Kevadia, Gujarat: Engineers and workers are working round the clock to ensure completion of the Statue of Unity near the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat after Chief Minister Vijay Rupani announced last month that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will declare it open on October 31, the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
The statue of Sardar Patel, when complete, will stand at 182 metres or 600 feet and will be the tallest statue in the world. Work is being done round the clock with over 3200 personnel, including over 250 engineers, engaged in completion of the project. It is being constructed in the bed of the Narmada river, three kilometres downstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam.
“This statue will be dedicated to the nation on October 31, 2018. The Prime Minister will inaugurate the statue, which will be the tallest in the world with world class facilities. It will be a modern tourist attraction with attraction like boating and a valley of flowers. We expect that at least 15,000 tourists will visit the statue of unity on a daily basis and the statue will inspire us for decades,” said CM Rupani.
The project itself is an engineering marvel. About 25,000 metric tonnes of iron, 90,000 metric tonnes of cement and 1850 metric tonnes of bronze will be used to construct the statue. A museum and audio visual gallery, a laser light and sound show and a research centre on Sardar Patel will be made at the base of the statue. But most strikingly, about 200 persons will be accommodated at the chest height of the statue which will be at a height of about 500 feet, from where they will get a breathtaking view of the Narmada dam, the reservoir behind it with the Satpura mountain range on the left and the Vindhya mountains on the right. The whole area will be developed as a tourist centre with three star hotel facilities, a valley of flowers and sea plane transportation facilities.
The BJP and PM Modi will look draw maximum political mileage by declaring open the mammoth statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. After all, it was Modi who laid the foundation stone of the project as Gujarat CM. Sources in the government say that several top international political leaders have been invited for the event and the aim will be to project PM Modi as an international leader as the country heads into a general election. Officials are tight lipped over the leaders who have been invited, but official sources said the event will be attended by at least half a dozen Presidents or Prime Ministers of countries.
Not pleased, the opposition, however, has said that while everybody respects Sardar Patel, it is outright wrong to use funds meant for the Sardar Sarovar project for construction of a statue of Sardar Patel.
While the foundation stone of the project was laid on the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel on October 31, 2013, it was not until a year later that L&T was given the contract to construct the Statue of Unity as the lowest bidder for a sum of Rs 2989 crore. L&T has further sub leased the bronze-cladding contract to a Chinese firm, a decision that has attracted much ridicule from political opponents of the BJP. The Gujarat government, however, argues that it is the choice of the contractor regarding where to source components from.
In March 2015, people staying in the area where the statue of unity is coming up, aided by environmental activists, approached the National Green Tribunal seeking scrapping of the project, as a green nod had not been taken. The petition was however dismissed by the NGT. Most parties and political activists who are opponents of the BJP also have raised the issue of the bronze cladding of the statue being made in China. However, the most serious allegation against the Statue of Unity project is that funds meant for the Narmada dam and the canal network to provide Narmada water are being used for construction of the statue.
Prime Minister Modi, who was the Gujarat Chief Minister when the foundation stone of the project was laid, had announced that no burden would be put on the state exchequer for construction of the statue. He even embarked on a widely publicised programme of collecting one farm tool and a handful of soil from every farmer in Gujarat for the project. However, since 2014 budgetary allocations have been made for the statue project every year under the SSNNL project category. This clearly implies that funds which were to be used for the Sardar Sarovar project have been used for the statue of unity project.
Suresh Mehta, Former Chief Minister of Gujarat, told News18, “What is the productive outcome of this statue. No doubt, there ought to be an inspirational statue of Sardar Saheb, but it should be made in India. If it is from the state exchequer at the cost of the farmers of Gujarat and China is earning from it, then I have some reservation with this. Whose money is it? It is the money of the Gujarat farmers. China earning at the cost of Gujarat farmers is ridiculous. SSNNL framework does not include statue of unity construction. This clearly appears to be an attempt by Modi to enhance his image before the next general election.”
Environmental scientist and activist Mahesh Pandya told News18, “I am sure Sardar Patel would never have approved of such wasteful expenditure. A trust was formed to oversee the construction of the statue, but it appears as if the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam is now the nodal agency. The SSNNL’s job is to provide Narmada water to Gujarat’s farmers, not construction of a statue of Sardar Patel.”